Microsoft cloud storage may lift Azure skyward

Microsoft will continue to blare its Azure cloud next week with several cloud storage announcements. Will users listen this time?

Hoping to gain broader acceptance for its Azure cloud environment, Microsoft next week will debut a handful of cloud storage and server-level products and services that offer IT pros more muscle and manageability.

At its annual Worldwide Partner Conference, the company will roll out its StorSimple 8000 series for users with large on-premises capacity and diverse workloads in SQL-, VMware ESX- and Hyper-V-based environments. Some of the basic capabilities include inline deduplication and compression, automatic data tiering and integrated data protection.

Included in each offering of the 8000 series are two new technologies: the Azure StorSimple Manager, designed to consolidate the management of all 8000 series arrays and StorSimple virtual appliances, allowing administrators to centrally manage all functions of the 8000 series; and the Azure StorSimple Virtual Appliance, which allows users to directly access data stored as cloud snapshots in Azure.

Too soon for Azure storage?

Some IT professionals said the new products and services appear to be capable enough offerings, but they wondered if Microsoft is ahead of itself in pushing Azure-based storage too aggressively. They believe the company needs a larger installed base of Azure corporate accounts to make the storage offerings more compelling.

"They could be jumping the gun somewhat by pushing the storage aspects of Azure," said Mike Drips, a solutions architect with WiPro Inc. in Houston, Texas. "They need to get more people using the servers in the cloud first."

Microsoft could be successful with some of the new offerings if it sells storage for the right purposes -- and the right price. Pricing will be available next week.

"If they can sell a really rock-solid Azure backup solution to the cloud, one that can be easily restored from the cloud, they could get some buyers for their storage products, if the price is reasonable," Drips said. "But you could have some Internet latency with storage products like this if you have servers on-premises. You servers need to be in the cloud, too."

One Windows Server 2012 developer, who also uses the operating system to run his IT operations, thinks users will find practical value in the products, but Microsoft cloud storage will prove to be a tough sell because of the ever-persistent concerns about security.

"These [offerings] could turn out to be just a marketing move if Microsoft can't convince people to overcome concerns about security and reliability issues of something like Azure," the developer said. "There is a long checklist of things to go over before [users] can feel warm and fuzzy."

One analyst sees this storage move as just a small piece of a much larger, ongoing campaign by Microsoft to establish Azure as the most strategically important platform going forward as the company attempts to reinvent itself.

"These announcements speak to a larger goal of the new Microsoft being a cloud-based company where Azure is the lynchpin," said Matt Healey, principal analyst with Technology Business Research Inc., a market research firm based in Hampton, New Hampshire. "They are going to bludgeon the market with Azure for the next few years."

Healey added that this strategy of emphasizing Azure services is Microsoft's response to some of its major software competitors that are also emphasizing cloud-based environments and exploitive applications such as SAP HANA and Oracle's Fusion suite of applications.

"There is this evolution of the traditional platform wars fought in the early 2000s around client-server architectures; [it's] now being fought in the cloud," Healey said. "You are seeing this decomposition of applications into smaller bite-size pieces, but the underlying cloud platform is now the battlefield."

New Azure IaaS, PaaS features

In addition to the Microsoft Azure StorSimple launch, the company next week will also debut a series of integration updates for its on-premises, infrastructure as a service (IaaS) and platform as a service (PaaS) products.

For IaaS, Microsoft will deliver new VM images in the Azure Gallery that help quickly provision a complete development and testing infrastructure. For PaaS, new Microsoft Azure BizTalk Services provide business-to-business, enterprise application integration and hybrid connections capabilities that reportedly improve delivery of cloud and hybrid integration solutions.

For on-premises, Microsoft rolled out BizTalk Server 2013 R2, which includes several improvements for industry solutions, such as updates to the BizTalk Accelerator for HL7 for Healthcare.

Lastly, Microsoft will show off a preview version of its Azure Event Hub that promises large-scale persistence and processing of data events from high-throughput data sources or millions of devices. The offering, when working in concert with Service Bus Queues and Topics, enables persistent command-and-control deployments for the Internet of Things.

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